WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday declined to take a formal stand on two issues that have cropped up in one of the district's member towns this spring.
The committee did discuss a zoning bylaw amendment to regulate the production of cannabis in Williamstown and a special permit application pending with the Zoning Board of Appeals to erect a cellular tower on a property adjacent to the middle-high school campus.
But although committee members expressed reservations about the possibility of outdoor marijuana plantations or cell towers near Mount Greylock Regional School, the panel rejected the idea of a formal motion recommending town meeting reject the cannabis bylaw and chose to take no action on the cell tower proposal.
The School Committee has heard comments on both sides of each issue.
Stephanie Boyd, chair of the Williamstown Planning Board that drafted the cannabis bylaw amendment, has addressed the School Committee to explain the proposal. On Thursday, the committee received public comment from an outspoken critic of the pot bylaw and residents for and against a new cell tower.
Williamstown resident Jose Constantine moved that the School Committee members recommend town meeting reject the cannabis bylaw as drafted, even though he recognized that the current bylaw on the books would make it easier for a grower to cultivate pot near the school.
"If, hypothetically, we don't, as a committee, pass a resolution that recommends the town rejects this proposal, are we, by default, saying we're OK with cannabis cultivation proximate to school grounds?" Constantine asked. "That worries me. Without our committee making a definitive statement on our position about cannabis cultivation close to the school, we are not doing what we should do as a School Committee."
Other members of the committee argued that the increased restrictions included in the new proposal are better than the bylaw the town passed in 2017, six months after a statewide ballot referendum decriminalized pot and before the commonwealth created a regulatory structure.
Working with Boyd, the town's community development director has produced an aerial representation of how much property near the school can host a pot farm under the 2017 bylaw compared to how little could host such a facility under the proposed bylaw amendment.
Based on advice from Williamstown's town counsel, who participated in Thursday's meeting, the School Committee was assured that opposition by residents could block a cannabis producer from obtaining a special permit from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.
"My understanding is [MassFlora in 2019] withdrew in the face of opposition," Joel Bard told the School Committee.
"That's the mechanism," Carolyn Greene told her colleagues. "The public opposition.
"If this [bylaw amendment proposal] is more restrictive than what we have now, and if there's an application in proximity of the school, it's up to the townspeople to show up [at the ZBA] and voice their opinions and prevent something from happening."
In the end, Constantine's proposal that the School Committee take a formal position on the question going to Williamstown's town meeting was rejected by a vote of 1-5-1, with Ursula Maloy, a Lanesborough resident who was not on the committee when Boyd appeared before the panel, abstaining.
The committee then voted unanimously to instead have Chair Christina Conry and Superintendent Jake McCandless draft a statement to be read at town meeting based on comments McCandless made during Thursday's discussion.
"To me, the most important thing that can come from this conversation … from the School committee is that the School Committee's expectation of the community is that any consideration of growing cannabis within proximity to the school is taken with the utmost seriousness and with the wellness of children in mind, the health of children in mind and how it impacts the 80 or 90 adults who come here to serve children on a daily basis," McCandless said. "It impacts the Williams College cross country team that uses our course and the dozen or so other high schools that run cross country here or play soccer here and their families.
"It does strike me that this particular bylaw [amendment] is more protective of the school than the current state of affairs in Williamstown. I don't know that this bylaw not passing offers any additional protections. In fact, it likely offers less."
No one on the School Committee offered a motion to make a statement to relay to the ZBA, which is scheduled to continue the public hearing on the cell tower application from Evolution Site Services and AT&T for at its May 20 meeting.
Constantine drew parallels between the cannabis issue and the cell tower question.
"There are arguments out there that if [the Evolution application] fails, there is nothing to stop, for instance, a large corporation from suing for the right to build a cell tower to support their business," he said. "And this is the best way for us to minimize the impact while enabling cell phone companies to provide for their customers."
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee:
• Voted unanimously to rescind a policy on out-of-state travel that the district enacted in early April to address families that might leave the commonwealth during the district's spring break.
"This policy was potentially some overreach on my part and on your part when I asked you to support it," McCandless said. "We think the policy was largely successful. We got all our kids back in school and got the high school kids back weeks ahead of many of our neighbors. There was no real uptick in COVID cases resulting from spring break travel.
"This policy ultimately impacted about 45 individual students. Some of those students and their families really made deep sacrifices to abide by this policy, and we are very grateful to everybody who made an effort to be a good neighbor and abide by this policy, as strange and difficult as it was to do so."
Steven Miller, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the travel policy, on Thursday expressed his objection to the process that led to its implementation, saying it was rushed and did not allow for community input through a "first read, second read" process the School Committee normally follows to consider policy decisions at two separate meetings.
• Heard from Mount Greylock Principal Jake Schutz that the middle-high school will offer multiple credit-bearing classes and "a host of weeklong enrichment and remediation camps" this summer as part of the district's efforts to help fill education gaps that may have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Learned from Williamstown Elementary Principal Cindy Sheehy the winners of the 2021 Renzi Awards: Ward Bianchi, Noah Fredette, Reese Raymond and Nora Stricker. The award, named for longtime educator Helen Renzi, recognizes graduating sixth-graders who have demonstrated the qualities of good citizenship and is decided by a committee of faculty and staff.
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